Storm surge floods historic riverfront homes

The St. Johns River flooded the north side of the Club Continental property on Sept. 11.

Jesse Hollett
Posted 9/20/17

ORANGE PARK — The unimaginable happened last week for 35 families along the St. Johns River.

As Orange Park firefighters rescued residents trapped in two condominiums on Club Continental using …

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Storm surge floods historic riverfront homes

The St. Johns River flooded the north side of the Club Continental property on Sept. 11.

Posted

ORANGE PARK — The unimaginable happened last week for 35 families along the St. Johns River.

As Orange Park firefighters rescued residents trapped in two condominiums on Club Continental using ladders and a 14-foot Jon Boat last Monday, the crashing waves of the St. Johns River river scooped out the foundation of their homes.

A three-and-a-half-foot storm surge combined with four-foot waves and torrential rainfall from Hurricane Irma caused the St. Johns River to rise more than eight feet and breach the bulkhead on the property.

Rescuers navigated roads that had turned into lakes, dodged the tops of stop signs and avoided the roofs of cars submerged by the storm surge from Hurricane Irma.

Residents of River Oak and The Villas Continental who were either rescued or had evacuated Sept. 10 and Sept. 11 would make their way back to their homes only to learn that their buildings were unstable.

Orange Park Fire Chief Al Barker said two buildings at River Oak, 2099 Winterbourne, and the Villas Continental at 2223 Astor St. have been rendered hazardous until residents hire a structural engineer to assess damages.

In total, 24 condo units in River Oaks and upwards of 16 units at the Villas Continental have been labeled uninhabitable.

“It wasn’t safe,” Barker said. “Because of the damage we saw wash out of there, we were concerned about the buildings themselves not being structurally safe and had [Clay Electric] turn the power off.”

Floodwaters rose above and damaged the bulkhead protecting the buildings. When Barker was assessing the foundational damage to the buildings, he said he still could not even see the bulkhead, which sat submerged in the St. Johns River.

Power lines in the floodwaters halted Barker and other rescuers until utility companies could shut down the power to lessen the risk of electrocution.

“I couldn’t even tell you how many [evacuations] we did,” Barker said. “We evacuated 24 units out of the Winterbourne address and the others we did multiple, I can’t even tell you how many there were.”

Doug and Paula Shepherd evacuated to a hotel near the Jacksonville Airport on Sept. 10, which was the only hotel available at the time.

When power went out at their hotel, they decided they would trek back to their condo to assess the damage.

Doug, who lives in a second floor condo in River Oak, said erosion damage caused a first level home’s floor and patio to collapse and caused a wall to crack.

He said residents have hired a structural engineer and a general contractor through their Condo Owner’s Association. Insurance adjustors are also assessing the damage to the buildings.

“It’s 24 families displaced,” Doug said. “We want to get everybody back in as quickly as possible.”

In the future, “I’ll see a better, stronger building that’s going to hold up,” Doug said. “I can’t tell you how strong it’s going to be, but our hope is to make it a bit stronger and make our bulkhead a bit more robust and take a lot more than it did this time around. We’re not planning on leaving, let’s put it that way. We’re staying here.”

Record flooding from storm surge caused by Hurricane Irma also damaged homes along Doctors Lake Drive on Dogwood Lane and other roads according to Barker. Assistant Town Manager and Town Clerk Sarah Campbell said five homes in total had damage from falling trees and others had flooding damage.

Flooding also infiltrated the town’s public works headquarters on Ash Street.

“Employees woke up and put their feet in six inches of water,” Campbell said.

Campbell said both town employees and residents are “in full on debris management mode.”

Outgoing Town Manager Jim Hanson said that initial estimates on damages could cost the town between $350,000 and $500,000.

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